Apple One-Ups Microsoft With New iPad Pro, Pencil

Posted on June 6, 2017 by Paul Thurrott in Hardware, Mobile, iOS with 62 Comments

Apple One-Ups Microsoft With New iPad Pro, Pencil

Apple and Microsoft seem to be on the same trajectory when it comes to adding active pen support to their newest hybrid PCs. But Apple has eked out a win this time with the new iPad Pro.

As you may recall, the new Surface Pro (2017) is the first Microsoft device to feature hardware-accelerated Windows Ink capabilities, thanks to its new Pixelsense Accelerator chip. When used in tandem with the new Surface Pen (2017), it offers what Microsoft described as the best-possible performance.

The new Surface Pen is the “fastest pen in the world,” Microsoft’s Stevie Bathiche told The Verge at the time. “It is twice as responsive as the Apple Pencil.”

According to that publication, the new Surface Pen provides 21 ms of latency. But, as Apple pointed out yesterday, the Apple Pencil, when used with the new iPad Pro, achieves just 20 ms of latency. It is, in other words, “faster” (or, more natural, I guess) than the new Surface Pen. Barely.

It is absolutely not coincidental that Apple was able to achieve this performance using specialized hardware in the tablet/PC rather than just with the Pencil itself. The best possible performance requires innovations in both. (And the Apple Pencil works with older iPad Pros, just as the new Surface Pen works with older Surface devices too.)

The issue here is that the Apple Pencil was already better than Microsoft’s previous-generation Surface Pen. So when Microsoft revved the Pen, and the Surface Pro, beating Apple was obviously the goal. Which they achieved, sort of. Since the new Surface Pen isn’t even available yet, it was technically never in first place. Apple will ship the new iPad Pro before Microsoft ships the new Surface Pro, and well before it ships the new Surface Pen.

Ah well.


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Comments (62)

62 responses to “Apple One-Ups Microsoft With New iPad Pro, Pencil”

  1. siko

    How is the built in software support in iOS for inking?

    (Not forgetting MS is a software company, before being a hardware company)

    • prettyconfusd

      In reply to siko:

      On an OS level it's not up to Windows 10 levels yet but they did show some great stuff on that front such as being able to instantly draw and write within emails for example - which for some reason Windows doesn't even have yet.

      Just like Microsoft, Apple are well aware that there is a huge market of pen users out there, we'll no doubt see plenty more inking support in iOS going forward.

  2. dstrauss

    On that "latency victory" that will be an interesting comparison - the original iPad pro 9.7 had 40ms latency at 60fps, and the new 10.5 has 20ms at 120fps - if it is the frame rate helping here, that will be a real conundrum because the frame rate DROPS to 24fps when viewing static images, such as photographs and text...

  3. SDreamer

    As you mentioned Paul, it's something that Apple is able to do this on the device itself instead of the pencil. Yes both are backwards compatible, but Apple's it seems like is forward compatible being able to do all the new features with the newer iPad. Saves upgraders the need to buy newer accessory hardware. But the decision of going from 9.7" to 10.5" hurts early adopters because now the older smart keyboard no longer covers the entire screen of the 10.5".

    • chaad_losan

      In reply to SDreamer:

      yup and now they must buy a new keyboard. Sounds like a win for Apple to me.

    • Darmok N Jalad

      In reply to SDreamer:

      You're changing screen sizes. The fact that you can keep the old cover at all is a bonus. It was like when Surface 3 came out--you could use the old type cover, but for protection purposes, it didn't work. Of course, there's nothing saying an original IPP user HAS to upgrade at all. If you have to run out and get the newest thing that comes out, prepare to pay.

  4. VancouverNinja

    The question: is the Apple Pen latency truly 20ms? Did they make this claim after MSs claim of 21ms? The difference means nothing but I would like to see an independent test of the two. I would not be surprised if Apple's pen did not clock in at 20ms. The pressure is on at Apple to prove they are worth buying over Surface product today; the fact that their Pen is still behind MSs is not good for them.

  5. John Craig

    Paul, respectfully, you're full of crap. Are we seriously down to 20 vs 21ms latency as a benchmark for one device being better than the other? Really?

    The Surface range is light years ahead of pretty much every tablet, laptop and desktop Apple have released over the past 2 years. The best Apple can do is copy the Surface and hope it's good enough

  6. WayneRobinson

    Doesn't matter how good your pencil is if you're using it to draw on toilet paper...

  7. chaad_losan

    The fact that any of this pen computing even exists is because of Microsoft. Apple has been playing catchup for the last 3 years to duplicate the surface tablet/laptop. Competition is good. If it was not for Microsoft, Apple would still be offering yet another new 9.7 iPad with yet another faster SOC with yet another demo of asphalt 1x. With no new features or capabilities. Competition is very healthy and need in the tech race. Apple is finally taking seriously the competition from Android and Microsoft. It pushes everyone to do better. And as a result we all benefit with better choices and better products and cheaper prices.

  8. Locust Infested Orchard Inc.

    Paul's conclusion: Apple Pencil is 1ms faster than Microsoft Surface Pen.

    I demand to see the photo finish line photo; it's way to close to call. ??

  9. Dont Fear the Future

    20ms of latency; but how many levels of sensitivity?

  10. Angusmatheson

    I do not own either, and have only played with the iPad Pro in an Apple Store and surface pro and surface studio in a Microsoft store. I am also not an artist by any stretch of the imagination. But, for me the iPad felt like you were drawing right on the screen, while in the surface devices it was like you were drawing in glass above the screen. I don't like the way it felt, it didn't feel as much like writing on paper as the iPad Pro. Now I only played with each for like 10 minutes. I bet if I used the surface every day it my brain would switch and I wouldn't notice at all. But it is funny that Apple never seems to tout that feature - the screen on the surface instead of a 20 vs 21 delay.

    • Locust Infested Orchard Inc.

      In reply to Angusmatheson:

      I recommend you see a live demo of Microsoft Surface Pen working with Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, or CorelDRAW Graphics Suite 2017 with its new AI-based LiveSketch mode.

      You'll be taken aback by the immense wizardry that Microsoft has concocted with the Surface tablet/laptop and Surface Pen working in concert.

      With a bit of imagination, it becomes child's play in becoming the next Rembrandt.

      Hope to see your masterpiece auctioned for millions in decades to come, courtesy of Redmond's devices. ??

      Angusmatheson's Quote: "But, for me the iPad felt like you were drawing right on the screen...But it is funny that Apple never seems to tout that feature"

      It's with good reason Apple don't, for they fear the wrath of Steve Jobs (RIP) from six-feet under. At Macworld 2007, whilst announcing the very first iPhone, Jobs remarked and I quote, "Who wants a stylus? You have to get 'em, put 'em away, you lose 'em. Yuck! Nobody wants a stylus. So let's not use a stylus."

      Also according to Walter Isaacson's biography of Jobs, Steve is said to have commented, "God gave us 10 styluses. Let's not invent another".

      So the Apple Pencil will always be an afterthought, whilst for Microsoft they are actively seeking to make its Pen the best.

      See the master at work, and his now famous quote given above:

      • Angusmatheson

        In reply to Locust Infested Orchard Inc.:

        My wife is a professional photographer who uses adobe photoshop and Lightroom on a Mac all day long. All of her friends are recommending a wacom centique tablet. It seems to me that a system like a surface studio with pen would be perfect...and there are ways to trick an iPad into mirroring the screen so you can do full Lightroom. However, she doesn't have a place - where she could use a surface studio. Her original transition to iMac from windows was about color reliability on the screen. But now 8 years in - and windows 10 being so different - I'm not sure she could go back - although I assume photoshop and Lightroom are identical on both platforms. The mouse seems not an ideal way to do art, and the Wacom tablet or mirrored iPad Pro seems not an ideal way to add pen to a computer....maybe I will try to drag her into a Microsoft store for a demo of the surface studio. Wish me luck.

    • Chris Payne

      In reply to Angusmatheson:

      Interesting. The feel is the most important part for me. When you say you tested the Surface Pro in-store, did you mean the brand new not-yet-released Surface Pro? Or a previous Pro with a number in the name?

  11. chrisrut

    That "pen" looks bigger than the iPad!

    Doubles as a walking stick? Billy club? Drink mixer?

  12. dstrauss

    "The issue here is that the Apple Pencil was already better than Microsoft’s previous-generation Surface Pen."

    As a pen user in various Tablet PC's for more than 10 years (Wacom, N-Trig, Atmel, others) and a former 6 month iPad Pro, I take issue with comments like this. First, we all know Paul's general disdain and lack of use for pens over the years, kind of like Mary Jo's dislike of 2-in-1's. Second, the Apple Pencil is too long, top heavy, and has a too hard nib (slides across the glass too much). Not being an artist, I'll defer to Paul on that one if that is what he is saying; however, as a decades long note taker, the Surface Pen released for Surface Pro 4 has better nibs, better grip, better balance, button control, AND an eraser. It had another huge advantage that it just squandered with the latest version - a pen clip.

    To me, it is at best a tie, with Wacom being the tie breaker (superior) device in either camp. The control, feel, responsiveness and quality of the Wacom pens (especially the Samsung large format S Pen) still put Surface Pen and Apple Pencil to shame.

    • tomstubbs

      In reply to dstrauss: I completely agree about the stupidity of MS dropping the clip from its pen. Have you heard of any aftermarket solutions? The damn thing flops around in my pocket and falls out if I bend over to pick up something.

  13. Tsang Man Fai

    So what's the main message of this article?  Latency is the most important benchmark of the quality of a stylus?  A 4.7% shorter latency is a significant difference, outweighing all other shortcomings?  One would buy a 2-in-1 tablet by considering the stylus only but not the tablet itself?

  14. Jules Wombat

    Panos has just got burned by Apple yet again. So much for expensive Surface devices, they get out performed by cheaper iPads. Incredible.

    • William Clark

      In reply to Jules Wombat:

      Have you priced an iPad Pro with pen and keyboard? When I looked the Surface w/i5, 256G and 8G ram was about $150 more expensive than the iPad Pro 12. Both were over $1000. I'd hardly call the Apple products cheap. They are expensive and in some ways less capable than a Surface. I like Apple products but I'd be hard pressed to say that Apple "burned" MS in any way here.

      • nbplopes

        In reply to William Clark:

        I agree with you. The iPad Pro is way too expensive for not to make all the dues of a laptop properly in the same price range if not better. The challenge seams not to be so much in outperforming the competition, at least in graphics but the usability in laptop mode. I guess that will be next year, replacing the MacBook Air and the Macbook.

        If you noticed the demos when the new productivity oriented touch grammar was being presented, the iPad was standing flat on the table. There was no demo, none showing how works with the keyboard. Why? Because it does not work well enough to get to the center stage. It just does not. In that regard, its still a companion device.

        But they seam to be very close, very close to blow super light weight laptops out of the water. Apple is not MS in that matter, they are not very close for a very very very long time. They tend to kill it fast.

        Only time will tell.

  15. lvthunder

    I'll wait until both are actually in users hands and people can test them both. My guess is you won't be able to tell the difference.

  16. skane2600

    Is a 1ms difference actually perceptible?

    • Darmok N Jalad

      In reply to skane2600:

      I think the take home message is that Apple responded and matched the spec before MS could even use it as a bullet point.

      Personally, I'm not as interested in the new iPad Pro for the pen, but more for the size and display quality. While my iPad Air 2 is not an end-all device like Apple tries to market it, it is still the best tablet experience, IMO. The size, weight, simplicity, display, and battery life are a good balance that I go to every single day. I honestly think sales are down partially because Air and Air 2 are still perfectly good devices today. They aren't being replaced as often as phones, and they don't need to be.

      • Ste Vae

        In reply to Darmok N Jalad: Saying you think, is a misnomer. By the very fact that buy and use CRapple products makes it so. Obviously you don't think. But in any case, it is still a bullet point, because the CRapple pen was supposed to be so much better over the last few years, and now CRapple has to make a big announcement over an inperceptible difference. That is a win-win for M$! CRapple keeps getting beaten at their own game. And an attention seeking press release like a <1ms differentiation in a pen, reaks with desparation. It doesn't matter whether you use a crappy ipad air or ipad pro, they both suck. And neither is a real full on computer like allllllllll of the other options, like the Surface Pro. So only an "i"idiot would allow themselves to be manipulated into thinking that half a computer is better than a whole computer. And you are shouting it from the rooftops that you are one of them...

        • pecosbob04

          In reply to Ste Vae:
          The thing I like best about this site is the cogent, informed, well researched, and erudite level of discourse exhibited by SOME of the denizens. This comment made my day. I take it you are not a big Apple (excuse me CRapple) fan but other than that you seem nice. Of course some here might find the use of M$ a little off-putting but ignore them and play to your strengths, soon I expect you will have your own venue and be primary source of technological advice and commentary on the web or if that doesn't work out the White House may tap you to replace Spicey if things should overwhelm him.

        • Darmok N Jalad

          In reply to Ste Vae:

          Wow, I feel really burned. Ouch.

    • bsd107

      In reply to skane2600:

      No. This is a "click bait" headline.

  17. legend

    LOL. This is a clear sign of how much Apple feels the pressure of Surface / Windows 2-in-1s.

  18. MerlinE.

    I bet they are 20.4ms and 20.6ms.  I just hope that Microsoft release that new Pen before School and College starts again.

  19. PeteP

    Competition is good. It forces everyone to deliver improvements.

  20. Chris Blair

    "The issue here is that the Apple Pencil was already better than Microsoft’s previous-generation Surface Pen."

    My questions regarding the above statement are how is it better and for which use cases? My uses of Windows 10 ink are note taking, equation writing, and schematic drawing, both electrical and mechanical. For these I need a digital stylus that mimics the functions of a precision pen. No pressure sensitivity. No tilting. Just low latency. The fact that I can cut and paste, and "stroke-erase" with a Windows 10 pen (and I assume an iPad pencil) is a wonderful bonus. 20 ms < 21 ms. So technically the new iPad Pro pencil "wins" the latest latency battle. But then the new Surface Pro beats the new iPad Pro in terms of display DPI (267 > 264). Of course such differences are not significant. What I really want to know is whether the new iPad pencil is significantly better than the new Surface Pro pen, or vice versa, for my use cases. I plan to try both and let you know :)

  21. tbtalbot

    Uh 1ms, really? Have comparisons really gotten this silly?

  22. RonH

    Is it just me or does that pencil look huge?

  23. harmjr

    How would anyone be able to test this?

    However I will say as an MS fan this is disappointing that Apple Pen in Gen 2 is as good as Surface Pen.

  24. zicoz

    So is there any way to actually benchmark this for reviewers? If not then such a claim is pretty much useless.

    • Darmok N Jalad

      In reply to zicoz:

      I think it will just come down to actual feel. It may end up like actual writing tools, where each person has a preference based on the type of pen and tip size. I bet both systems will feel pretty capable and the winner will become subjective.

  25. teched

    How about other quality factors such as pressure levels and those 12g force calibration. Might tip it right back to MS favor

  26. prettyconfusd

    It also one-ups Surface Pro by being a better tablet experiences and also bringing along all the great tablet UX from Windows 8.1 that Microsoft ludicrously dumped with Windows 10 (I mean ludicrously for tablet mode - none of that UX should ever have been there for desktops) and literally millions more tablet friendly apps - including Affinity Photo, of which the desktop version has unseated Photoshop in the past few years - for myself included. A touch friendly version of that is something that does interest me.

    I came away pretty astonished that I want this new iPad Pro. With the file system, app support, and Microsoft support (helped along by the latest updates to Groove and Outlook), the only thing missing is a kickstand and something equivalent of the type cover. But third parties have that covered really...

    Still not fussed by the iPhone, and am pretty sure my next phone will be the next Galaxy Note, but will see what happens...

    I do love that my Surface *is* a full desktop PC, but as a tablet it isn't even as good to use as the SP3 was with Windows 8.1 and while it's not as godawful as a tablet as it was when Windows 10 first came out, it should be so much better two years later. But it's not.

    Disclaimer - I just had my third Surface Pro 4 break on my in 13 months last night so might be a little more pessimistic than usual about this, haha! ?

    For those interested: the battery has stopped charging this time so it will only work when plugged into the dock. Interestingly, and also terrifyingly, it won't work when connected to a standard charger - only the dock. So if I hadn't spent the extra £130+ on the dock I'd have had to assume the thing was completely bust and lost everything not in the cloud! Previously I had one that would constantly freeze and restart, and the original one was just always slow and noisy and would kill my WiFi if I plugged a HDD into it. Weird.

  27. Ste Vae

    First of all, can you actually even measure the real difference between 20 and 21 ms of latency? Second, is it possible at all to tell the difference between the two with the human eye? I really don't think so. So is this really Apple one upping M$, or just a publicity stunt. Lastly, has it even been verified that either have those exact numbers of latency? That said, I do think M$ missed a huge opportunity this year. If they would have continued to offer the pen with the Surface, and given all Surface owners a half price discount on the type cover, they would have cornered the market. Then AFTER you corner the market, you raise prices. But get the market first. The second biggest gripe of apple users, behind shit that doesn't work, is the high price tag on all of their products. So after coming out with similar prices, M$ could have dropped prices this year, since they've already established market credibility of product, and people would have responded hugely. But by continuing to offer similarly priced options, so many CRapple users will just continue with CRapple. M$ should have made such a bold move. I would have wagered they would have made more money by sheer volume.

  28. Cassius Clae

    What about the pressure sensitivity? Like Apple, you didn't mention it..... Maybe you both forgot

  29. jwpear

    But I can use a mouse with my Surface Pro!  Take that Apple!

    • Michael Rivers

      In reply to jwpear:

      I don't know if you're being sarcastic, but not being able to use a mouse with my iPad Pro really sucks. It seems as if it would be so easy for Apple to add support for a mouse. Especially now that there will be a "dock/task bar" like thing, I just don't know what they're thinking. I kept waiting for the announcement yesterday, and it never came.

  30. Jorge Garcia

    IMO, tablet/laptop arm-based devices like the iPad Pro, once they finish adopting the most useful features of Windows/Mac, will make both x86 and Microsoft's Windows completely irrelevant outside of certain business-related applications. MacOS as well. A large percentage of people want this to happen right now. Apple understands this, which is why they are investing massive R & D into iPad Pro, and little into MacOS. Microsoft gets it as well, but they are doomed due to the lack of an ecosystem that can compete with the big two. Ironically, Google, the one most poised to succeed, still can't deliver a non-mobile computing experience that will let people migrate away from Wintel desktops and laptops (Chomebooks have a sucky app ecosystem, and may never get apk support). The way I see it, it shouldn't be that hard to accomplish this, for the "big boys" at least, as Microsoft has already shown everyone how you do have a desktop mode for some use cases and a tablet/touch mode for other use cases. If it can't figure out which one to launch, based on I/O or other criteria, it can simply ask, as windows 10 does.